Review by Malorkus

"Get whacked."

Pinatas are a disaster waiting to happen. Think about it - pinatas encourage violent behavior. They promote violence in children by having them beat the hell out of innocent paper animals with a baseball bat. Like blood-thirsty fiends, these youngsters charge after the candy that falls out, shoving and kicking each other down in a brutal game of survival of the fittest. The next thing you know, these once-innocent children may be out on the street whacking real-life animals with bats and stealing their candy blood. I'm honestly surprised the soccer moms have not pushed for a federal ban on these things yet. Fortunately, Rare has turned the twisted and often disturbing world of pinatas into a friendly and vibrant atmosphere. A simulation game of sorts, Viva Pinata features living, breathing pinatas that you can raise, feed, mate, or destroy. It's the bizarre and nonsensical type of concept that we have come to know and love from the company after all these years, and with the features of worldwide play, the possibilities are limitless.

At first, your garden will be nothing more than a poorly maintained wasteland filled with shattered bricks, old tires, and other unwanted debris. A masked girl named Leafos will be crying because the legendary gardener's land is in shambles. Boo-hoo. Fortunately, you have your trusty shovel by your side which you can use to shatter debris and unearth riches in the soil. Unfortunately, your shovel is ragged and has a broken spade, limiting its capabilities, but it will have to do for now. With your shovel, you have the ability to hammer the hard, crusty dirt into soil. Suddenly, a worm pinata (called a Whirlm) grabs notice of your lofty soil, fulfilling its “visiting requirement”. Each pinata has its own criteria your garden must meet in order to appear. For instance, some pinatas will only appear if you have a certain flower growing, another specific species of pinata, certain types of turf and landscape, etc. But getting a pinata to visit is merely the first step to getting them to actually become residents of your garden.

Leafos will provide you with an everlasting package of grass seeds. For the worm, a patch of grass in the garden fulfills its resident requirement, which is when it gains color and becomes a permanent resident. From there, the game becomes much more open-ended, and shops will open up via the main menu for various needs. For example, the housing shop will likely be the first service available, which will build houses for your pinatas. Chocolate coins, your currency, can be obtained by smashing debris or selling unwanted materials. At other shops, you can purchase seeds, candy, and decorations for your garden. Later in the tutorial phase, a second Whirlm will crawl up to your garden, grabbing attention of your current one. Pinatas are not limited to specific genders, so once you have more than one of a specific breed, you have the ability to romance them, again via specific requirements. An egg will later be delivered to your garden, which will eventually hatch and grow into a pinata of the same species.

Certain pinatas are common “bait”, meaning that other pinatas will actually attack and eat some of your residents. The Whirlm is the prime guinea pig here, being very easy to breed and a common appetite for other pinatas. On that note, not everything is always sunshine and gumdrops on Pinata Island. While most pinatas will interact with each other without any problems, a few pinatas are natural born enemies. For instance, a Sparrowmint (bird) may often get in a scuffle with a Syrupent (snake). A fight sequence will ensue in a battle to the death, and the victor will feast on the opposing pinata's candy remains. Unless you enjoy adorable pinatas beating the living hell out of each other, it is your duty to break up the fights by violently whacking one of them with your trusty shovel. If you whack a pinata too many times, however, your pinata will grow ill. This can be dealt with by phoning the hospital and paying a small fee to recuperate them. Failure to take action will result in a visit from the pinata grim reaper. Whack a pinata enough times, and it will break altogether into candy that the other pinatas will gladly devour.

A specialized clock determines day and night. Certain pinatas are nocturnal and will only emerge at night, while daytime pinatas will slumber. Your status as a gardener is determined by numbered “levels”. You will gain levels through attracting additional pinatas and growing varieties of plants. The higher your level as a gardener, the more features become available to you, like shovel upgrades to create ponds. As your level rises, your garden will expand and new challenges will appear before you. More sour pinatas and garden savages will attempt to destroy advanced gardeners' work, and you must consistently fight to keep them off. Naturally, this has a tendency to get rather tedious after a while, and prevents you from being able to do things at your own pace when you are constantly multitasking. On the plus side, Viva Pinata has robust online features where you can visit other people's gardens from around the world. There, you can get ideas for your own garden from other people and interact with their pinatas, including trading with them.

Viva Pinata requires you to get over your insecurity about its childish exterior in order to enjoy a fantastically creative title. The world of living pinatas is bizarre, colorful, and exceptionally captivating. Not only is the game an innovative take on the simulation genre, but it's an addictive one, as well. After you work your way through the slightly tedious tutorial phase, an immense world opens up to you. There is always something to keep you entertained on Pinata Island, whether it be gardening, raising families of pinatas, or warding off unruly home-wreckers. And while the game is expansive enough by itself, the features of Xbox Live help to expand it that much further. Even though the game unfortunately sold poorly, and Bill Gates moronically called it a game for little girls (though I'm sure little girls will enjoy it too), fans of the simulation genre will no doubt want to check this glorious title out. Like any pinata, this game may have a colorful exterior, but deep inside lies a delicious treasure trove of candy.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 05/05/08, Updated 11/17/14

Game Release: Viva Pinata (US, 11/09/06)

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